Ashton Kutcher's Twitter Fumble: Is Social Media Still Safe for Celebrities? (Analysis)

Ashton Kutcher GQ's Gentlemen's Ball 2011
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When one of the medium's trailblazers turns his account over to others to manage, does it mark a new era for stars in general?

It’s no understatement that people went nuts after Two and a Half Men star Ashton Kutcher tweeted a misguided protest against the firing of Penn State coach Joe Paterno. He was soon bombarded with angry responses as the actor realized that he had made a very uninformed move.

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“When you do things on the internet, the internet doesn’t forget,” TheNextWeb’s West Coast Editor, Drew Olanoff, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So, when you tweet something, especially when you have as many followers as he does, it’s going to get captured.”

It wasn’t the first time, or even the second time, Kutcher had been blasted for a misguided tweet. But, it was certainly the one that took him out of the game.

“He misspoke, OK, fine, he’s human,” Olanoff says of how the star handles the volatile situation after the tweet. “The social media mistake was that he deleted the tweet -- then he did apologize, which is great -- then, he erratically wrote that he’s not going to tweet for a while until he had a solution. I thought it was a snap reaction to a situation that sucks.”

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With more than eight million followers, Kutcher was a trailblazer on the social media site, adopting its 140 character-capped method of communication way before many other stars even knew what it was. When he joined the medium, late night comedians still made fun of it for being a worthless source of information saying things like “No one cares what you had for lunch, people.”

Now, those same late night hosts have very active Twitter accounts and celebrities are considered out of touch if they’re not on the site. And, by the way, food companies and restaurants would pay a good amount of money to be mentioned in a celebrity’s “what I had for lunch” tweet today.

But, Kutcher, was not only an early adopter of the site, but he’s an investor in businesses in the tech space. If anyone should know how to use Twitter, it should be him. So, what does it mean that he has now turned his Twitter account over for others to manage? And what does that say for celebrities in general on Twitter?

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Beck Media and Marketing President, Todd Beck, feels that there is definitely a code of behavior social media users should adhere to. His entertainment and technology PR and marketing firm with offices in Los Angeles and New York City counts several major broadcast and cable networks, studios, production companies, and tech companies among its clientele.

“Celebrities really benefit from showing their true selves on social media,” Beck says. “But they need to be aware of the risks, and be prepared to deal with consequences. If they’re not informed, they should get informed. If they make a mess, they should do everything they can to clean it up quickly and completely. Those who follow these rules, celebrity or not, tend to be the best and most respected citizens of the social web.”

In his mea culpa, Kutcher expresses the belief that the site has changed from what it was when he first joined. No longer does the star believe that it’s a place for “healthy debate” in which one can state something and then have the conversation with others shape and/or support the claim.

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“It seems that today that twitter has grown into a mass publishing platform, where one’s tweets quickly become news that is broadcast around the world and misinformation becomes volatile fodder for critics,” Kutcher writes in the statement in which he announces he’s giving control of his account over to handlers.

Olanoff, who has been covering social media for eight years, disagrees on Kutcher’s assessment of what Twitter has become. “I was really bummed when Ashton said it used to be about personal communication, but now it’s a publishing platform," he says. "It’s always been both. It depends on how you use it.”

So, the question remains. When a famous person like Kutcher, who has been a longtime user of Twitter and even counts himself an expert on the medium, can make such a huge gaffe and then give up control of his account, is that a sign that less knowledgeable celebrity users of the medium should follow suit? THR’s experts agree that it doesn’t.

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“Artists should populate social networks through their own voice,” John Scholz of Career Artist Management, which manages bands and recording artists including Maroon 5, Sara Bareilles, and Gavin Degraw, tells THR. 

“Fans are engaged by personality and compelling content which can only be generated by the artists themselves,” he says, stressing that this is his personal opinion and not the company he works for. “Social feeds populated by management [or] media teams are transparent and often abandoned, rendering them much less effective.”

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